Clear message sent to USDA: Let organic chickens roam

Organic Trade Association – and thousands more – urge swift implementation of new animal welfare standards

Washington, D.C., Nov. 15, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The Organic Trade Association, along with thousands of organic stakeholders and consumers,  urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to swiftly implement a final Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards (OLPS) rule, saying that strengthening organic animal welfare standards is long overdue and critical for the sustainability of family farms, the advancement of organic, and the continued trust of consumers in the organic label. 

“The organic community and our association have been fighting for some 20 years for the much-needed animal welfare reforms that this regulation makes possible. It is time now for USDA to heed the overwhelming support that this new rule has received from the public, and once and for all make this rule a reality,” said Tom Chapman, CEO of the Organic Trade Association.  

USDA’s public comment period for the proposed OLPS regulation ended on Nov. 10. The proposed rule drew overwhelming public support. Initial analysis shows that out of 39,090 posted comments, a huge majority of 89 percent were in favor of this regulation being finalized and implemented -- ensuring that organic animals have true outdoor access and closing regulatory loopholes that have led to uneven animal welfare standards and unfair conditions for organic farmers who are already raising their birds by the highest organic practices. Less than 1 percent were outright opposed to the rule. 

Nearly 80 U.S. lawmakers also officially supported the new rule. A letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack signed by 20 senators commended the USDA “for prioritizing these much-needed regulations to set clear standards concerning outdoor access and the care of animals raised under the National Organic Program, leveling the playing field for organic farmers, and meeting consumer expectations.” Fifty-seven representatives noted in a separate letter to Vilsack that the rule “is the culmination of decades of public input and extensive economic analysis,” and said they were “gratified that USDA is working to fulfill the mission of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990.” 

Stronger organic animal welfare regulations have been steadily supported by consumers through the years, as illustrated by the robust public backing for the predecessor of this rule, the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) final rule. The OLPP rule was abruptly rescinded in 2017 following a robust comment period during which nearly 120,000 comments were submitted – 99 percent of them supportive/positive. Leading the fight for organic, the Organic Trade Association then took the government to court over its failure to uphold organic standards. In response to the lawsuit and to continued pressure from the organic industry, USDA finally published its new proposed version of the rule in August, which is largely in-line with the OLPP final rule.

Outdoor access fundamental  
The Organic Trade Association’s submitted comments were informed and supported by responses to two OTA surveys of organic poultry operations and organic certifiers across the country. A total of 579 organic poultry operations producing some 90 million organic chickens answered the survey, while ten accredited certifiers that certify more than 1,500 poultry operations sent in their responses. Together, the OTA surveys were highly representative of the organic poultry industry.

In its comments, the Organic Trade Association said, “Outdoor access is fundamental to the organic regulations, and it is what the market expects.” 

The association stated: “The regulatory clarification in the OLPS Rule that enclosed porches are not outdoor access is critical for resolving the market failure, alleviating the direct competitive disadvantage experienced by many organic producers, and supporting consumer confidence and expectations of animal welfare under the USDA organic seal.” 

Timely implementation critical
OTA also stressed the importance of swift implementation of the new regulation, stating that, “Timely implementation is critical.” 

The association said it is opposed to a 15-year implementation period put forward by USDA as an option, calling it “excessively long” and “unacceptable” and saying that such a lengthy implementation period “would amplify the existing consumer confusion and extend the market failure that USDA acknowledges in the proposed rule.” OTA recommended poultry operations certified at the time of the final rule’s publication date should have no more than 5 years to comply with outdoor space requirements, and new entrants must comply within one year.  

OTA to keep the pressure on 
The Agriculture Department will now review all the submitted comments, after which it will finalize and publish the final rule. There is no time limit under which USDA has to complete its process, but the Organic Trade Association stressed that it will be monitoring the agency’s progress closely.  

The association’s lawsuit against USDA over the delay in publishing new organic animal welfare standards is stayed through March 4 of next year. The intent of that stay was to enable USDA enough time to propose the new regulation. OTA objected to the stay when it was issued by the court, saying it was not necessary and that it would only prolong the time that organic poultry producers would be harmed by the inconsistent rules, and fester more confusion in the marketplace.   

“USDA has taken a significant step forward in finally clarifying key organic animal welfare regulations. The Organic Trade Association will keep the pressure on to make sure this new regulation is put into place. Now it is time for the department to swiftly implement these long overdue rules, as the organic community and the public clearly support,” said Chapman.  


The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is the membership-based business association for organic agriculture and products in North America. OTA is the leading voice for the organic trade in the United States, representing over 9,500 organic businesses across 50 states. Its members include growers, shippers, processors, certifiers, farmers' associations, distributors, importers, exporters, consultants, retailers and others. OTA's Board of Directors is democratically elected by its members. OTA's mission is to promote and protect ORGANIC with a unifying voice that serves and engages its diverse members from farm to marketplace.

The Organic Trade Association does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation or marital/family status. Persons with disabilities, who require alternative means for communication of program information, should 
contact us.

CONTACT: Maggie McNeil
Organic Trade Association
(202) 403-8514